NPPA Budget Moves: Make Cuts Across Entire Budget/Michael Sherer

by Michael Sherer

There is a classic moment in the film "Network" where TV anchor Howard Beale opens a window and yells, "I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!" This is my Howard Beale moment. I am mad as hell about our budget crisis. I believe that we got ourselves into this mess through a series of faulty assumptions and miserable financial management. I believe that we got into this disaster by moving away from our long-standing tradition of volunteer support for our major activities and educational events. This move began when the Board adopted the fy2002-2003 budget that included an increase of $176,800 for additional national office staff members.

I was the chair of the Finance Committee that built this budget. I had reservations that I shared with the Board via eMail in advance of our annual meeting. Not to worry, the Executive Director eMailed the Board on April 25, 2002. These additional staff members would generate $195,000 in "incremental revenue" from sponsorships, memberships, product sales, and cost savings for our educational events. This new professional team, we were told, would pay for itself. Obviously, this has not happened.

This sort of blue-sky budget building has made a major contribution to my anger. Add to this the fact that the Executive Director eMailed the Board that, "Organizations go bankrupt when they run out of cash and you can see by this report that the NPPA is a long way from that. The total cash balances for the Association stood at $862,573 on March 31, 2002 and have held steady since then."

Compare that statement with the fact that our latest auditor's report shows that in fy2002-2003, our cash reserves dropped from $963,791 to $619,638; a net cash loss of $344,153. And the news only gets worse. In early November, the Executive Committee was told that if we wanted to keep the NPPA from running out of cash by mid-December, we had to make major spending cuts. A final decision, we were told, had to be made immediately in order to cancel the book printing contract for The Best of Photojournalism 2003.

Fortunately, we managed to get a short time extension. This gave the book editor a chance to renegotiate our contract with the printer. A solid plan, which included major cost savings and a payment schedule that would not begin until January 2004 was offered to the EC. This plan was shared with the Board. A majority of the Board liked the plan and encouraged the EC to move ahead.

Unfortunately, when the final vote came with a budgetary gun held to our heads, three EC members felt that we needed to take the financial bullet by killing the BOP book. I disagreed.

Make no mistake; I am not a financial whiz. But I also think I am not an idiot. I have a Ph.D. in journalism. I have been an active member of the NPPA for 20 years. I believe that I have the mental capacity and sense of institutional history to help guide us through this mess.

I believe that we must make serious across-the-board spending cuts in our entire budget rather than relying on the financial cherry-picking process that was used to eliminate the BOP book. I believe that if we return to our tradition of a heavily volunteer-based association, we will work our way out of this financial crisis. I will continue to argue this because I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!